05/06/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT
HE'S A SLY FOX. MATTHEW, THAT is. The 29-year-old actor says that he grew his whiskers to play irresponsible elder brother Charlie Salinger on Party of Five "because I had this idea that my character, who's a slacker, should have a scruffy face." He might also have predicted the devastating effect his perpetual five-day stubble would have on viewers. The fan mail for "the one with the beard" keeps rolling in—most of it from women in their early 20s. "I used to try to answer it," says Fox. "But now we have a service." As it happens, the 6'2", 180-lb. Fox comes by his mountainman look naturally. A native of Crowheart, Wyo., he grew up on a 120-acre ranch and went to a one-room school through the fourth grade. When he ventured East for a year of college prep, snooty classmates at Deerfield (Mass.) Academy voted him "Most Likely to Appear on Hee Haw." Now the joke's on them. Actress Paula Devicq, who gets to kiss him on the show, can't say enough about his charms: "He has such intense eyes. And when he laughs, it's a real laugh." Offscreen, Fox has a wife (Italian-born Margherita Ronchi) and a razor. When the show is on hiatus, he says, smiling, "I shave." And guess what? "Nobody recognizes me."